3 Surprising Things
1. Judge Amy Coney Barrett repeatedly declined to affirm that climate change exists during her confirmation heating.
Senator Kamala Harris pressed her on this question, and after the judge affirmed that she accepted both that COVID-19 is infectious and that smoking causes cancer, she called the existence of climate change “a very contentious matter of public debate.”
Granted, Harris is running for vice president and is looking for viral moments. And granted, a Republican-nominated judge is going to have conservative views. This is still weird!
Mainstream conservative judges affirm the reality of climate change all the time—there’s not a debate over it!—and they have done so for years. I’ve heard Justice Brett Kavanaugh affirm that climate change is real from the bench (though he was a mere judge at the time). He does not seem to believe that the Environmental Protection Agency can do much about climate change, but that is, in his mind at least, a separate legal question. He had no problem affirming it.
2. There was some talk about the federal budget deficit this week, because it reached a record high of $3.1 trillion.
Okay, look! Don’t stop reading. This is actually interesting.
Deficit-hawk arguments usually boil down to the same idea: A high deficit ties the future’s hand behind its back. A high deficit eats into savings and salaries, it reduces the government’s ability to respond to emergencies, and it saddles future Americans (who are usually described euphemistically as “our children”) with a debt they cannot pay down.
What I find astonishing about these complaints is that every alleged harm of runaway deficits is an actual harm of runaway climate change.
I don’t mean that figuratively. A broken climate will cause precisely the harms alleged by a high deficit—it will reduce our children’s standard of living, it will eat into savings that would otherwise go toward investment, and it will reduce the country’s ability to respond to a crisis.
In fact, it already has: This year’s climate-intensified California wildfires made it much harder for the state to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. And while the costs of a high deficit depend on impossible-to-predict political and economic configurations, the cost of a broken climate is a physical fact. It is thermodynamically assured.
Should a Democrat ever occupy the White House again, he or she may have to prioritize bipartisan cooperation on one of the two goals—lowering the deficit or addressing climate change. I know which one I would choose.
3. Finally, some reasonably good news: For decades, the starting assumption of climate policy has been that there’s a trade-off between cutting carbon pollution and stimulating economic growth. Quietly, and rather strikingly, the International Monetary Fund broke with that idea this month.* It now argues there is no such trade-off, the climate-finance expert Kate Mackenzie writes.
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* This newsletter misattributed a report on climate-friendly stimulus to the World Economic Forum. The report was published by the International Monetary Fund.